US president Donald Trump and his team have been quick out of the gate with attacks on opponent Joe Biden’s choice of running mate.
To the surprise of almost no one, Mr Biden chose Californian senator Kamala Harris to be his Vice President, announcing it on Wednesday morning, AEST.
Minutes later, the Trump campaign released an attack ad which revealed the strategy they will deploy in an effort to dissuade voters of supporting the Democratic ticket. That strategy, for now, is to paint the 55-year-old first-term senator as a radical of the far left.
But it’s going to be a very tough sell, says Dr David Smith, a political scientist from the United States Studies Centre at Sydney University.
“Trump was going to try that with whoever the Vice President candidate was and I don’t think it’s going to be terribly effective, in the same way that it hasn’t been terribly effective so far to paint Biden as a puppet of the radical left,” he told Yahoo News Australia.
“In a sense, this is the safest possible pick for Biden.”
Before she was elected senator, Ms Harris spent two terms as California's attorney general and was district attorney for San Francisco.
The daughter of a Jamaican father and an Indian mother, she is the first black woman to be nominated as a vice-presidential candidate.
Prior to calling it quits on her presidential run late last year, Democratic critics found fault with her record on criminal justice, accusing her of not being as progressive as she claims.
“Interestingly, if you look at her legislative records, it is one of the more liberal records in the senate,” Dr Smith said. “And in the primaries she was supporting things like medicare for all, but these aren’t the things that tend to scare voters.
“On the kinds of issues that Trump is trying to use to rile his base up – which is law and order and the spectre of riots and anarchy – Kamala Harris, if anything, her record is on the other end of that. She was a very tough-on-crime prosecutor in California.”
President Trump’s attacks on “Sleepy Joe” have really failed to land and in an attempt to capitalise on the civil unrest and ongoing violence in cities like Portland and Seattle, the president has tried to paint Mr Biden as a so-called Manchurian candidate for the far left, falsely claiming he wants to defund the police.
Ms Harris, it seems, will get the same treatment despite the fact she has been criticised by many on the left for being too harsh on crime in the past.
One of the more memorable critiques of her during her brief presidential run came on the debate stage from fellow Democrat Tulsi Gabbard who berated her over marijuana sentences and keeping a man on death row.
“A lot of the left of the party doesn’t particularly like her,” Dr Smith said of Kamala Harris.
Trump campaign’s attack line ‘incoherent’
On Wednesday morning (AEST), Trump senior adviser Katrina Pierson posted a statement decrying Ms Harris and saying she would “try to bury her record as a prosecutor in order to appease the anti-police extremists who control the Democratic party”.
The Trump campaign seems intent on trying to squeeze a square peg through a round hole.
“If you look at the first statements that came out of the Trump campaign about Kamala Harris, they were really kind of incoherent,” Dr Smith said. “It’s going to be very difficult to actually pin that much on her.”
It’s a reality the president’s supporters have been forced to acknowledge.
“This really puts the Trump campaign in a box: whether you portray her as pro-police or anti-police,” Dan Eberhart, a Republican donor and Trump supporter told NBC. “They are going to have to decide.”
Despite the obvious limits of painting her as a radical far-left VP candidate, those on the right have largely fallen in line with the strategy.
Despite Joe Biden being ‘Mr Middle Ground’ for his near 50-year political career, Fox News host and close friend of the president, Sean Hannity, called the Democrat ticket “the most radical in history” on Wednesday.
Meanwhile Republicans have lined up to claim the Californian senator is beholden to radical leftists.
We didn’t need any more proof that Joe Biden isn’t the so-called moderate he pretends to be—but we just got it. Just like him, Kamala Harris will say and do anything to please the radical left.— Steve Scalise (@SteveScalise) August 11, 2020
The mistake Trump is making this time
So far there has been very little focus on Joe Biden and his campaign – and that is very unlikely to change.
“The election is much more a referendum on Trump and his handling of the coronavirus,” Dr Smith said.
But the language of ideological politics that Mr Trump has come to embrace recently (largely thought to be at the behest of senior advisor Steven Miller), might not deliver him the average Americans who he managed to court in 2016.
“It’s certainly not his natural language,” Dr Smith told Yahoo News Australia. “Certainly for the really hardcore Republican base, yes that’s their language.
“But in terms of those really important voters that Trump got last time, people who were alienated from the political system, people who saw Trump as something new and unique who would fix things.
“I think all this abstract talk of left or right and socialism, that’s not actually something that particularly appeals to them. Not all American voters are ideological, many voters – probably about a third of voters now – they wouldn’t even place themselves on an ideological spectrum,” he said.
“They wouldn’t be able to classify themselves as liberal or conservative, let alone left or right.”
For many, Mr Trump’s appeal in 2016 was that he wasn’t a political insider, so couching himself in such ideological and political language could backfire, or so the theory goes.
In announcing the VP pick this morning, Mr Biden called Ms Harris a “fearless fighter for the little guy, and one of the country’s finest public servants.”
Meanwhile Ms Harris said Joe Biden would “unify the American people” and “build an America that lives up to our ideals.”
Heading into the November 3 election, the 77-year-old Democrat still has a considerable lead in the average of national polls, although one that is tightening, particularly in key battleground states.
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